Fired Pasco substitute teacher plans lawsuit

LAND O'LAKES — Jim Piculas, the Pasco substitute teacher who claims he was fired for "wizardry," now wants to sue the school district for making it impossible for him to get a full-time or substitute teaching job.

His lawyer, Jeffrey "Jack" Gordon of Tampa, has notified the school district that Piculas intends to sue the district for "defamation and tortious interference damages."

"Six months from now I will be suing. They're not going to offer any money," Gordon said.

Gordon acknowledged that the district had a legal right to fire Piculas under Florida's right-to-work laws and also under its own substitute teacher manual rules. But he suggested that district officials were on shaky ground by making accusations that have had a substantial effect on Piculas' profession.

"He works every day as a sub for a year, and now no school needs him?" Gordon said. "There's one reason and only one reason why."

Like all the blogs and news reports, and the attention from national media including MSNBC and Comedy Central's Colbert Report.

"His performance as a teacher has been called into question," Gordon said.

You might ask, wasn't all the negative publicity Piculas' own fault? The Tarpon Springs man was the one who called the television station that launched his story into the stratosphere, after all.

Gordon said even he had his doubts, at first.

"I get the call and I think, 'Come on. You brought it on yourself,' " he said.

After meeting with Piculas and reviewing the available records, though, Gordon began to change his view. He's still reviewing information that he says will help him make a case to a jury, if it gets that far.

"Maybe I've been sold," he said. "But I don't think so."

School officials have steadfastly denied that "wizardry" — in this case a 30-second trick of making a toothpick "disappear" — had anything to do with Piculas' dismissal. Rather, they have consistently pointed to documents stating that Piculas could not manage his class, used foul language in front of students and failed to follow lesson plans.

When asked about the notification that Piculas might sue, superintendent Heather Fiorentino smiled and said simply, "We've given it to Mr. (Dennis) Alfonso," the district's lawyer, who was out of the office for the day and not available for comment.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fired Pasco substitute teacher plans lawsuit 07/07/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 6:47pm]

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